Review - The ZooHunters #1

"He is a man. And you should have told him."

There are many hard parts about growing up, but few are harder than dealing with illness and death at a relatively young age. Such events shape an individual in ways they may not otherwise be shaped, forcing them to reconcile a seemingly innocent youth with a harsher does of adult realism. Despite the difficulties, many do soldier on and maintain a way of life that feels right to them, even if it hurts at times. Aspen Comics presents such a tale in The ZooHunters #1, written and illustrated by Peter Steigerwald.

Abros Kel is a ZooHunter—a man who is hired to capture animals for zoos on alien worlds. He and his young son Ty have lost everything due to a tragedy and together this uncomfortable pair set out into the stars to train Ty as a ZooHunter. Along the way they encounter scores of alien lifeforms on faraway worlds, including Qaurec—an unscrupulous rival ZooHunter who is hunting Abros down. Can Abros and Ty stay one step ahead of his villainy and prove successful in their quest?

Based on its cover and the solicit, you think you know exactly what The ZooHunters #1 is: a book about a man who travels the galaxy in search of exotic creatures to capture and sell to zoos. The first few pages change that perception dramatically, as Steigerwald offers up a tone that's a lot more serious and sincere. Ty's been coping with numerous ailments, while his father Abros is coping with his own personal problems, both of which come together quite elegantly by the middle of the issue. For as much as The ZooHunters #1 is a book about the work, it's also about a father's relationship with his son as he raises him in his image, following in his footsteps. There seems to be some slight pacing issues throughout, as the first two-thirds is fairly slow and seems to be telling one story, while the last third is a bit faster and seems to be telling another story. It's almost as if Steigerwald wanted to get all the origin stuff out of the way so he could focus on the zoo hunting aspect of the story, while keeping the backstory of Ty and Abros in the back of the reader's mind.

Books where the writer is also the artist tend to have a lot more cohesion, largely because the left half of the brain is talking to the right. In this regard, Steigerwald's illustrations are very ethereal in some ways, underscoring the drama faced by Ty and Abros. Emotion pours from the characters through their facial expressions and stances, giving a lot of information into their nature. He also does interesting time-lapse representations with the panel layouts, as progressive layouts showcase what would otherwise be fleeting moments. It's done to pretty great effect, again emphasizing the beauty found in even the most mundane moments when they're shared with someone you love. While there wasn't much in the way of many exotic creatures in the first issue, it's expected that future issues will delve a bit more into those creatures to help flesh out the wonderment in their universe.

The ZooHunters #1 is a book that's trying to accomplish two things. It's trying to be a book about intergalactic animal hunters while at the same time be a coming of age book for a teenage boy. The first issue excels more at the latter than the former, with Steigerwald almost exclusively focusing on Ty's immediate growth as a framing device for the entirety of the series. The hunting side will likely play a larger role down the line since Steigerwald addressed much of Abros and Ty's backstory. Steigerwald's illustrations carry a lot of emotional weight and it's pretty obvious that he poured a lot of his own emotion into the illustrations, which helps make the somber looks of the characters feel genuine. The ZooHunters #1 is an interesting issue that is definitely ambitious and should be a melancholy read once it settles down and focuses more on the business of zoo hunting.

The Zoo Hunters #1 is in stores November 5 with interiors below.